Learning on the job works for me

Sven Sunde, 38, started his optical career 14 years ago as an optical assistant and has worked his way up to be an optometrist in Ashford Kent.

‘After leaving school I went to university and did the first year of a chemistry degree, then decided it wasn’t for me. I dropped out but I always wanted to work, so became a waiter, then a barman, then worked in a department store.

‘I never thought about working in optics until 2004, when I applied for an optical assistant role at Specsavers. The interviewer told me about the clinical opportunities and I immediately thought it would suit me, as I have a science background but I also have experience in retail and customer service.

‘In 2006, after working at Ashford for a couple of years, I was given the opportunity to do the dispensing optician (DO) course at ABDO College in Godmersham. It took three years and was paid for by Specsavers. I worked full time throughout and did the course via distance learning, which meant I had to complete an assignment every week during term-time. There were also two blocks of two weeks when I went to college every day.

‘The course was really well written and structured, and the staff were fantastic. The challenging part was finding four or five hours a week for the assignments – as well as staying motivated over three years! A good supervisor really helped.

‘Towards the end of the course, a classmate introduced me to her sister, Amanda. Now we’re married with two sons, aged 3 and 5.
‘I received my diploma in ophthalmic dispensing in November 2010. I enjoyed working as a DO – solving problems, educating people about their eyes and explaining how glasses work.

‘A couple of years later I was starting to think about career progression when I heard about the University of Bradford’s one-year optometry BSc for GOC registered DOs. I hoped I could be a good optometrist because I’ve got a good eye for detail – I can pick up small issues and educate the patients about them, or take the appropriate action. As I needed at least two years’ DO experience before starting the course, the timing fitted in nicely.

‘I had dropped out of my chemistry degree because at 18 I just wasn’t prepared for the amount of work – even to understand the lectures, you had to do a lot of reading around the subject. But second-time around, I felt more confident about uni – I decided I could work really hard for a year and stick it out.

‘The course started in September 2013. Our first son had been born two months earlier, so Amanda took a year’s maternity leave from her teaching job and we all moved to Bradford for the year, returning in September 2014.

‘I enjoyed working with the other students – getting through the workload, preparing for exams and helping each other out. I ended up with a 2:1.
‘The toughest part was the pre-registration year. The challenges included doing all the tests, keeping really well-written records, and being constantly assessed. Fortunately, the store’s other optometrists were very supportive.

‘As an optom, I feel I’ve got a bit more control over the final outcome than I did as a DO – for example, when I do a good test, the customer will get some decent glasses, or a referral if necessary. I work with a really nice team and we see a good variety of customers – different ages and different pathologies.

‘We also have very good equipment. We’re getting an OCT machine in the next few weeks, which is exciting. It’s going to be fascinating, seeing things we’ve never seen before and learning what’s normal and what’s not. We’ll be able to pick up on retinal problems and glaucoma much more accurately and earlier.
‘It seems like I’ve hardly stopped studying since I started at Specsavers, and I feel I’ve been really looked after and supported. I’ve been learning on the job and taking it all in during my journey here, and it suits me well.

‘If I’d studied optometry straight after school I’d probably have dropped out. Doing it this way, I feel I’m a really well-rounded optometrist with good dispensing knowledge and good customer service skills too.

‘Optometry’s a great vocational degree for people who are interested in biology, physics or pharmacology, and it leads straight into an interesting, well paid career. There are also many different opportunities for further development, enabling you to progress to more specialist roles – clinical, business or educational, for example – to suit your skill set.

‘Since graduating from Bradford, I’ve gained a Minor Eye Conditions Service accreditation from WOPEC, which enables me to see patients with eye problems, such as red or painful eyes, under the local NHS contract. Looking forward, I’m considering doing the Professional Certificate in Medical Retina. I’m always learning and I’d like to carry on.’

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